There is a beauty in the unexpected but often even more so in the expected. Everyone knew what Arjen Robben could and almost certainly would do, yet they could do nothing to stop him.
He would repeat the same form of play over and over again, from picking up the ball on his right flank to giving the appearance of moving towards the byline, before cutting inside and scoring. It worked a treat and it’s been working in a similar fashion for Nigeria’s Samuel Chukwueze during the Africa Cup of Nations.
It’s vibrancy, colour and rhythm makes the Africa Cup of Nations what it is. From the racket of the vuvuzelas and African drums to the vivacious attire, and the flags of all nations splashed on the faces of the exuberant enthusiasts, effervescent is the default.
The vibrant kits on offer have always added something to not only the Africa Cup of Nations, but also the continent of Africa as a whole. Ivory Coast and Ghana’s 2014 spectacles spring to mind, as well as Algeria’s German-inspired offering this summer. But, Nigeria’s green and white chevron delight has emerged with great elegance, much like a certain 20-year-old wearing it.
Born in Umuahia, Abia State, Nigeria, Samuel Chukwueze began playing football at a mere eight-years-old, plying his trade at local academies – the famous Diamond Football Academy among them – before passing across the Mediterranean to join the ranks at Villarreal.
It could have been completely different for Chukwueze, though. His parents weren’t contented by him playing football as a youngster and went as far as burning his boots to stop his playing the beautiful game.
The 20-year-old Nigerian acquainted with The Cable: “When I was growing up playing football, my parents used to seize my boots and even burn them to prevent me from going to play football.
“Inspite of this, I never let it stop me from going to training. They saw me as being stubborn. They always try to stop me from going to training.
“My parents eventually gave their consent to me playing football in 2013 when we went to Portugal.
“They realised that I love playing football and that I will prefer it to something else. So, they gave their blessings and I became more focused on my football career.”
After initially being assigned to Villarreal’s youth squad, he made his senior debut in April 2018 and netted his first senior goal just a month later in a 3-1 defeat to Bilbao Athletic. He led Villarreal’s reserves to just outside the play-offs, before in September making his first-team debut.
Chukwueze replaced Nicola Sansone in a 2-2 Europa League draw with Rangers, as he graced the pitch for the first time in a Villarreal first-team shirt.
After a ‘dream’ first season in La Liga, which saw him turn defenders inside out against both Real Madrid and Barcelona, it was only inevitable that the Nigerian youngster would be called up to the African Cup of Nations squad. He’d have to earn his place in team, however, with the likes of Ahmed Musa, Moses Simon and Samuel Kalu being prominent figures.
And, he did just that. He didn’t quite make his mark in the group stages, but after Nigeria progressed to the latter stages of the tournament, Chukwueze shined. He entered the field of play with his team trailing 2-1 at the hands of defending champions, Cameroon, and without reservation turned the game on its head. Nigeria would win the game 3-2 and progress to the Africa Cup of Nations quarter-finals.
Chukwueze was labelled ‘the game changer’ following Nigeria’s triumph, as he created three big chances in less than 30 minutes and set the match alight. However, the best was still – and still is – yet to come.
After flourishing against Cameroon, Chukwueze was handed a starting position in Wednesday’s quarter-final versus South Africa. A 78 percent passing accuracy, a crucial goal, four successful dribbles and a two key passes. It was yet another performance to remember for Samuel Chukwueze.
The Nigerian star, who was on Arsenal’s radar in 2016 with a deal collapsing, is now indispensable to Nigeria’s play, and with him causing chaos down the right flank and Ahmed Musa on the left, the full-backs are burned for pace. The end product might need touching up, slightly, but overall it works in a satisfactory manner.
His first international goal, which saw his nation safely through to the Africa Cup of Nations semi-finals, wasn’t exactly of Robben resemblance, but he is very much a Robben-esque performer and has a bright future ahead of him.
So, he’s been linked with many top clubs across Europe, including the likes of Liverpool and Barcelona, but where will Samuel Chukwueze be next season? Let us know in the comments. Will he stay out at the ‘Yellow Submarines’ or move on to a bigger, better experience?
featured image credit Squawka